Derek Carr Oakland Raiders
Derek Carr is poised to have a big 2016 season. Getty

It’s been a long 14 years for the Oakland Raiders, who haven’t been to the playoffs since they reached the Super Bowl in the 2002 season. But that could very well change in the upcoming NFL season, as the franchise has put together one of its most talented rosters since the drought began.

In the team’s first season under new head coach Jack Del Rio, Oakland put together a record of 7-9, which was a four-game improvement from the previous season. After making key additions to a team that is filled with good, young players, the Raiders might be ready to take the next step.

Below are three reasons why Oakland will make the playoffs in 2017.

Carr Ready To Make The Leap

Derek Carr wasn’t considered a “sure thing” when the Raiders drafted him in the second round two years ago, but he’s proven to be a first-round talent. After making a significant improvement from his rookie year to sophomore campaign, Carr could become a top quarterback.

All the signs are there for Carr to improve on his 2015 season, which was good enough to get him in the Pro Bowl. In year No.2, he improved in completion percentage (58.1 to 61.1), yards (3,270 to 3,987), touchdowns (21 to 32) and passer rating (76.6 to 91.1). While he might not join the class of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, Carr is on pace to reach that next tier, potentially making him the best quarterback in the AFC West.

Carr will have largely the same weapons that were at his disposal in 2015, but just as he’s getting better, so are his top targets. Amari Cooper was a Pro Bowler in his own right, but the wide receiver should be even more reliable in his second NFL season. The same goes for Latavius Murray, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in his first year as a starting running back.

Weaker Division

For the first time this decade, the AFC West is up for grabs. After Peyton Manning’s retirement and some notable departures, the Denver Broncos seem likely to take a step back, giving the Raiders a chance to vye for first place in the division.

Denver certainly has a strong chance to make the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl, and the team proved that they can win without an above-average quarterback. But even if the Broncos still have a top defense, it’s unlikely that they’ll be as fortunate as they were in 2015, winning five times when they scored 20 points or less. The team lost defensive end Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan, while Super Bowl MVP Von Miller remains unsigned.

The Kansas City Chiefs should be good again, having won 31 games over the last three seasons, but they can only go so far with Alex Smith at quarterback. The San Diego Chargers should be better than their 4-12 record in 2015, but they haven’t won 10 games in seven years and didn’t get much better in the offseason.

Addressed Weaknesses

Few teams had a better offseason than the Raiders. Not only did Oakland sign some of the best free agents available, but they added players to fill some desperately needed holes.

Oakland ranked 26th against the pass in 2015, and in response, the team bolstered its secondary. The Raiders signed cornerback Sean Smith and safety Reggie Nelson. The team also signed linebacker Bruce Irvin after ranking in the middle of the pack in sacks.

The Raiders did a good job of protecting Carr last year, and that should continue in 2016. They signed Kelechi Osemele, the top offensive lineman on the market. Oakland also managed to keep free-agent tackle Donald Penn.